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Amalia Pica's 2011 Venn Diagrams (Under the Spotlight), back in the galleries after replacing the prior, broken spotlights with new, LED alternatives; the lights turn on when visitors walking by trigger the motion sensors. (Image: M-H Rudd)
My third-year internship at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City began in September, when I joined the Objects Conservation Lab under the supervision of Tina March. I have also had the pleasure of working with sculpture conservator Lynda Zycherman, assistant objects conservator Caitlin Richeson, and fellow Soon Kai Poh along with many others in conservation and departments across the museum! From week one I have loved the collaborative environment and I've been given the opportunity to take on a number of tasks including the work of maintaining galleries, responding to incidents, preparing objects for exhibitions and loans, conducting analysis and research, and more.
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Snowman, Peter Fischli and David Weiss, 1987/2016, on view in MoMA's sculpture garden. (Image: M-H Rudd)
I knew that delving into the world of modern and contemporary art would mean encountering unusual artist's materials, but I didn't anticipate getting to work with a beehive affixed to the head of a concrete, reclining figure (Pierre Huyghe's 2012 Untilled (Liegender Frauenakt)), an all-weather Snowman (Peter Fischli and David Weiss, 1987/2016), or stage lighting (Amalia Pica's 2011 Venn Diagrams (Under the Spotlight))! My work on the beehive statue began after it had been taken off view, and the bees had been safely relocated; Lynda and I worked to clean the wax and other substances that had accumulated and dripped across the surface after display in MoMA's sculpture garden. Snowman, conversely, remains on view outside where the large freezer is subjected to a range of climates. The snowman itself builds up over the course of its display with fine mists of water over an aluminum frame, creating the ice. While I only occasionally assist with the maintenance of Snowman which includes re-shaping the eyes and mouth and knocking out icicles, I have been more centrally involved in the treatment of Pica's interactive, light-based artwork. When the original lights ceased to function I dove into the world of stage lighting and sourced LED spotlights as replacements for the former halogen bulbs. Getting the artwork back on view was a collaborative effort involving objects and media conservation, electricians, audio-visual technicians, art handlers, registrars, curators, and the artist and her assistant.
Altar to Oshun in Ja'Tovia Gary's 2019 The Giverny Suite, after replacing batteries and resetting the candle's timer. (Image: M-H Rudd)
One of the objects I worked with at the beginning of my internship was a large ceramic sculpture by German artist Rosemarie Trockel: Violette Beach. This purple, glazed ceramic from 2010 is 49.25 x 47.25 x 13.875 inches overall, and each of the two semi-circular halves weighs approximately 300 pounds. The two halves are hung on the wall with a narrow gap between them, which gets filled by four ceramic pieces adhered in place with silicone caulk. The artwork had been requested for display in the 2nd floor galleries which present collection items from the 1980s to the present in rotating displays. Many aspects of this treatment invoke my WUDPAC training with adhesion of broken fragments, filling of losses, and inpainting. However, the logistics of its installation presented new challenges such as what silicone caulk would be safest for long-term display and deinstallation. Ultimately, after testing several options, I used a mixture of two silicone caulks: one designed for easy reversibility and one designed for more lasting strength. Mounting the artwork in a manner safe for both the ceramic and the art handlers also required much consideration and discussion. I'm happy to report that the installation of Violette Beach was successful, and it is now on view in Gallery 215: Clandestine Knowledge.
There are so many other artworks I would love to highlight from my time at MoMA such as weavings by Sheila Hicks, a poured polyurethane chair by Gunnar Aagaard Andersen, a model of the original 1939 MoMA building, and a stone-polished blackware jar by Maria Martinez and son Popovi Da, among many others. Up next on my roster is the treatment of a plaster sculpture by Max Weber for which we are conducting research and analyzing the painted surface, and the treatment of two design objects for the exhibition Crafting Modernity: Design in Latin America, 1940-1980. I'm grateful for the diversity of projects and activities I have worked on in the 5 months I have been at MoMA thus far, and I can't wait to see what the next 6 months will bring!
— Miriam-Helene Rudd, WUDPAC Class of 2024
When dusting on the 5th floor, you run into some familiar artworks! (Image: M-H Rudd)